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FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Commitments to Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge

The Obama Administration today announced that 61 higher education institutions and systems have committed to take the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, joining the 25 signatories that took the pledge when it was first announced in June. In total, the 61 higher education signatories, representing 172 individual campuses, currently serve over 1.8 million students. By signing this pledge, these higher education institutions and systems are demonstrating an ongoing commitment to ensure that people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system have a fair shot at a second chance through educational opportunities.

During his remarks at Rutgers University last year, the President spoke about the importance of providing second chances through education. He discussed a smarter approach to reducing crime and enhancing public safety that begins with investing in all of our communities. He also met with participants of NJ-STEP, an initiative that provides incarcerated individuals with the opportunity to enroll in college courses before their release.

“When people make mistakes, we have to focus on how we give them a meaningful second chance,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “The signatories to the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge are leading the way by committing to expand educational opportunity for all. We are better off as a country if we help those who have gotten off track get back on a pathway to success by giving them a fair chance to successfully reintegrate and lead productive lives in our society.”

Today, Secretary King and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson visited Calhoun Community College’s postsecondary education program at Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama to highlight participation in the Second Chance Pell pilot program, which will provide nearly 12,000 incarcerated students in federal and state penal institutes with access to Pell Grants for postsecondary education and training programs. Calhoun Community College is partnering with Limestone Correctional Facility and the Alabama Department of Corrections to provide incarcerated students access to 11 training programs ranging from carpentry and welding to horticulture and mechanical design. Students will gain experience and instruction, and will also receive career and transition guidance as they approach release. They will also be able to transfer accumulated credits to another institution or may continue their education at Calhoun Community College.

"Reducing violence and providing second chances to justice-involved individuals are goals at the core of the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative," said Cabinet Secretary Johnson. "Solutions to these issues are certainly essential for bolstering our economy, but they are also part of our moral imperative to give all individuals the best chance to reach their full potential. We applaud the efforts of all the organizations and institutions who have committed their time, energy and resources to make this breakthrough program a reality."

By accepting this pledge, institutions are:

  • Adopting fair chance admissions practices like the Beyond the Box initiative, which determines whether justice-related questions are necessary to make an informed admissions decision.
  • Empowering professors and students who want to teach or are teaching in correctional facilities.
  • Ensuring internships and job training opportunities are available to individuals with criminal records.
  • Leading by example in creating second chances for these individuals.

Incarceration by the Numbers The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world, outside of a few small island nations, with approximately 2.2 million people behind bars. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are released annually from these facilities. A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

An estimated 70 million Americans (one in five) have some sort of criminal record. Even after paying their debt to society, an individual’s criminal record often disqualifies them from obtaining employment, completing/furthering their education, and fully re-integrating into society.

The United States spends more than $80 billion annually on corrections. The Department of Education recently released a report, Trends in State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, which shows state and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for P-12 education in the last three decades. Even when population changes are factored in, 23 states increased per capita spending on corrections at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil P-12 spending.

Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge We applaud the growing number of public and private colleges and universities nationwide who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system.

Institutions interested in joining the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge can do so by signing up HERE.

Today’s signatories include:

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC): “We support the Department of Education's ‘Beyond the Box’ initiative as we continue to work to create equitable access for students. UMBC is committed to inclusive excellence and we applaud the Administration's efforts to make it easier for qualified students to pursue their education.”

Muriel A. Howard, Ph.D. President American Association of State Colleges and Universities: “I am pleased to see that the Administration has taken a constructive and balanced approach to a complex and important issue—one that is too often oversimplified in public discourse. The report published today, Beyond the Box, provides thoughtful and actionable advice to campus officials regarding admissions practices for prospective students with previous encounters with the justice system. Education is universally viewed as a transformative experience that improves both the individual student and the community. Broader access to higher education for underserved groups benefits the entire nation and should be a priority and a common goal for all of us. AASCU looks forward to working with the Administration and our members on the issues addressed by Beyond the Box.”

President Michael M. Crow, Arizona State University: “‘Beyond the Box’ proposes that, by expanding access to higher education, potential students who otherwise would eschew college instead can be empowered with the single greatest determinant of social mobility — a college education. At ASU we judge success not by whom we exclude, but by whom we include and how they succeed and we pride ourselves on enabling students to find individual paths to success. Our nation needs more universities to develop ways of helping more people achieve their dreams by opening new paths to obtaining a post-secondary education.”

Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, State University of New York: “I commend the U.S. Department of Education for its leadership on this issue, one that has challenged public universities across the country. In our continuing effort to provide all New Yorkers access to a quality, affordable higher education that prepares them for success in college and career, and at the direction of our Board of Trustees, SUNY has also been evaluating its application process with regard to those individuals that have a record with the justice system. This federal guidance comes at an ideal time in SUNY's own review, as our system-wide workgroup is finishing its vital consultation with campuses and preparing to bring recommendations to our Board. In addition, our system-wide Student Assembly recently passed its own progressive resolution recommending we ‘move the box.’ We look forward to reviewing the ‘Beyond the Box’ guide in full so that we can align SUNY's effort. I commend United States Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and the Department of Education for their leadership in removing barriers in the higher education admissions process for formerly incarcerated individuals.”

Chancellor James B. Milliken, City University of New York: “The City University of New York has been at the forefront of promoting alternatives to incarceration to help rehabilitate at-risk individuals and break the cycle of mass incarceration. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced CUNY and SUNY would develop a statewide plan to provide college instruction in prison and allow participants to continue their educational progress in the community after being released from prison. At CUNY, our college admissions offices have long been leaders in considering student applicants who have paid their debt to society while refraining from asking about their criminal records. A college education is vital to accessing opportunities. This will ensure that when incarcerated individuals leave prison and return to our communities, they have the education and skills they need to obtain employment and contribute positively to society. We endorse the principles inherent in the “Beyond the Box” initiative and look forward to maintaining and expanding CUNY’s leadership in ensuring that educational opportunities are available and encouraged for those who have been involved with the criminal justice system.”

New York University Spokesman John Beckman: “We think the Dept. of Education's announcement today is a good step forward. It will be an important part of the ongoing national conversation about balancing campus safety with higher education's mission as an engine of opportunity and social mobility. To that end, we are also pleased that the Common App -- which NYU and hundreds of other colleges use for admissions, and which NYU wrote to about this issue in January -- last week notified its membership that it is moving forward with research on these very questions. These are positive, productive developments on this important topic in higher education.”

Obama Administration Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform Since President Obama took office, this Administration has been committed to reforming America's criminal justice system. Last summer, the President spoke about the importance of reducing barriers facing people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system and are trying to put their lives back on track. He then became the first President to visit a federal prison where he sat down with individuals who would be returning to their communities. In November, President Obama also announced new efforts by this Administration to help formerly incarcerated individuals to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into their communities, including an Office of Personnel Management proposed rule that would “ban the box,” delaying inquiries into criminal history until later in the federal hiring process.

The White House also launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers in employment for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance.

The Department of Education has worked to ensure everyone has a fair chance at pursuing their education. The Department, in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, created a $5.7 million grant program aimed at improving outcomes for students who have been involved in the criminal justice system by providing career and technical education, and released a toolkit providing guidance to educators and others to support a successful reentry system for formerly incarcerated youth and adults. The Department also recently called on colleges and universities to remove barriers that can prevent the estimated 70 million citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education, including considering the chilling effect of inquiring early in the application process whether prospective students have ever been arrested.

The Fair Chance in Higher Education Pledge, the Fair Chance Business Pledge and Second Chance Pell all respond to recommendations presented to President Obama by the My Brother's Keeper (MBK) Task Force in May of 2014 to "Eliminate Unnecessary Barriers to Reentry and Encourage Fair Chance Hiring Options." The My Brother's Keeper Initiative, launched by President Obama in February of 2014, brings together partners from the federal government, state and local government and the private sector to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and ensure all youth can reach their full potential. MBK is one of several Administration initiatives designed to expand opportunity for underserved young people and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2011, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice announced the launch of a collaborative project – the Supportive School Discipline Initiative – to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school. Recently, the Administration announced new tools to improve school climates by working with states, schools, and their law enforcement partners to assess the proper role of school resource officers and campus law enforcement professionals. Both the Education Department and the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released letters to states and districts on the importance of well-designed school resource officer programs, and encouraged leaders of institutions of higher education to commit to implementing recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the campus policing context.